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Council / Annual cost of local democracy below half a million pounds

Lerwick Town Hall.Lerwick Town Hall.

SHETLAND Islands Council paid out over £462,000 in salary and expenses in the last financial year to its 22 councillors.

Of this around £404,000 was paid as salary to councillors with the remaining £58,441 being paid to recompense for expenses while on the job.

The highest paid member was political leader Steven Coutts, whose nationally set salary is £27,115.19. Coutts’ expenses bill amounted to £11,730, around £2,000 less than that of council convener Malcolm Bell.

Chairmen of the main committees – Alastair Cooper, George Smith, Ryan Thomson and Allison Duncan – all received salaries of £19,684.08.

The total pay-out figure for council for the year was £462,458.47, which was just over £5,000 more than in the previous financial year, but £22,000 less than in 2016/17.

Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick, meanwhile, who did not chair or sit on any committees during 2018/19, claimed a total £5,771.52 in expenses – the fourth highest request of all of Shetland’s councillors.

Hawick does sit on the joint committee and executive sub-committee of Scotland Excel, which is the centre of procurement expertise for the local government sector.

The councillor said she attends around 10-12 meetings on the mainland each year for Scotland Excel.

She attributed the expenses to flights, buses, the occasional meal and overnight accommodation as there are “poor connections trying to get up and down in the same day for meetings”.

The highest claim for mileage – £3,092.85 – came from Mossbank based Cooper, who chairs the development committee.

The total number of council meetings, meanwhile, increased from 71 in 2017/18 to 97 in 2018/19.

South mainland member George Smith was tasked with attending 76 meetings in 2018/19, and he managed to make 67 of these.

He chairs the education and families committee and also sits on committees like environment and transport, planning and licensing.

The most number of apologies was from Shetland North member Andrea Manson, who missed 15 meetings due to personal business.

Leader Steven Coutts missed the most meetings due to council business, with the west side member unable to make eight.

Hawick was the only councillor with a 100 per cent attendance record – but her schedule only included 15 full council meetings, the least of any member.

Beatrice Wishart missed one out of 37 meetings, while Theo Smith managed 65 out of 68 sessions for instance.

Convener Malcolm Bell said: “We’re seeing a steady decrease in the amount spent on travel as we represent the interests of our wards and the wider community.

“As technology and connectivity improves, we’re more able to conduct our business remotely though it is, as ever, important that we attend certain meetings in person.

“We have an important role in making sure Shetland’s voice is heard at a national level, but as members we’re also well aware of the cost to the public purse, and try to conduct as much official business as possible when we’re off-island.

“The figures on councillors’ attendance gives an insight into the life of an elected member. The number of meetings each councillor is invited to depends very much on their interest and involvement in specific committees and areas of business, or whether they hold the position of chair or vice chair.

“For anyone thinking about standing for election in the future, this illustrates the wide range of services the council provides, and the options open for members to involve themselves in the work we do.

Details of councillors’ remunerations, allowances and expenses can be found here.